France Day 9 - A dinner soiree for the ages...

Trip Start Jun 25, 2008
Trip End Sep 01, 2008

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Flag of France  , Pays de la Loire,
Monday, August 4, 2008

Yet another lazy day for us as we are resting up in anticipation of the pace of our France trip to increase rapidly in the coming days / weeks. So far, we've only done a little exploring nearby ... soon we will have a road trip to several French towns and cities including the city where Joan of Arc was killed, a two day trip to D-Day, and a three day trip to Brittany.

I swear the kids are changing and growing right before my eyes. They are playing so well together, ... it is a wonderful thng. Today they enjoy the trampoline a bit as the rain comes down and then we all relax and eat our leftover food in the 'fridge.

Today's story is all about new friends and an exceptionally wonderful dinner party they threw just for us.

Olivier and his wife Laurence are friends with our host family. Olivier runs the Leisure Center where we left our kids for a full day last week. Last week, he invited us to come by their home at 4pm today for a dinner. We accepted the invitation, but had no idea we were in for such a wonderful treat!

We meet Olivier at a nearby church and follow him in his car to their home just five minutes away. We arrive at his home, a nice home on a good-sized piece of land. A swing set, above-ground swimming pool, and various children's toys are around the yard. Also, a terrific garden that we later learn is kept up by Olivier's father who lives nearby. ... We are greeted by Laurence with kisses and smiles and ... FOOD! She has a fresh batch of crepe goodness sitting right by the stove. Before we are treated to a first class lesson on how to make crepes, we receive the grand tour of their wonderful rural home and get the children settled in and playing together. As is typical, it takes all of five minutes of nervous himming-and-hawing by the kids ... and then, presto!, Sam and Ella are laughing and running around like old buddies with Olivier and Laurence's two children.

And then, its CREPE TIME! First, a demonstration by Laurence, ... and then I give it a whirl. I'd say a 6 out of 10. Too many bare areas leave a messy-looking-obviously-rookie crepe. It looked a lot easier when she did it!! Tastes great, but that's all Laurence's doing, not mine. Then, Janice gives it a try. A PERFECT 10!! DOH! Guess it will be Janice whipping up the crepes when we get back home... (oh, I guess thats not so bad afterall! ; D). Three crepes later (just me!), I'm getting full. "Better slow down..." I think to myself. I had no idea how good of an idea that would be.

As we sit and talk and laugh and drink and eat with Olivier and Laurence, they inform us that they've invited two more couples to our dinner, making a total of eight adults. Laurence's close friend Valerie is an English teacher in Chateau-Gontier and she thought it would make things easier with her around to help with any difficult translations, ... so Valerie, her husband Gilles, and their two children will come. Also, Olivier's understudy at the Leisure Center who helped us get signed up last week, Laurent will come with his wife Aurore (a very soft-spoken woman with very difficult to pronounce for us!) and newborn son. It will be a full house!

We talk some more and its discovered that Janice and I have yet to try the French delicacy of fois gras. Our gracious hosts decide that tonight will be the night, and so Olivier and I are sent out to fetch some fresh fois gras from the store. Along the way, we stop by his parents' nearby home for some more hard cider that will be used in the cooking tonight. Olivier was born and raised right here in Chateau-Gontier and his parents are the kindest people you could ever meet. Olivier's brother has an apple orchard, and their parents are fond of home brewing hard cider (which we tasted at Olivier's home) and 'Pomorol'. This 'Pomorol' is totally new to me, and I'm told its a very very special regional drink, so we sit down and give it a try. Its WONDERFUL! A mix of lemon, orange, apple, and many other flavors and smells. And its got the goods ... a very strong drink. Good stuff and very very smooth. Unfortunately, I probably will never be able to find it back home. Can't even find info on Google!! ... Olivier's mother is very bubbly and happy to have me as a guest in the home. Neither of the parents speak English, and I know nearly zilcho French, ... so poor Olivier is stuck trying to translate for all of us. Later in the evening, we laugh together about how his mother would try to speak to me the same way I've seen English speakers try to speak to Spanish speakers ... LOUDER AND SLOWER, but still in English. She did the same thing with me. It was the loudest, slowest French I've ever heard, ... but I still didn't understand a word of it! : ) It seems every home we go to, we find a terrific garden, and Olivier's father has one of the best we've seen so far. These photos are inadequate to really capture how beautiful the produce was, but will help me to remember why we need to plant one in our yard next year!!

We return home and Janice and Laurence leave for la boulangerie for bread for the night. Before long, they return and soon after the house fill with guests and children. For a good hour or two we talk and laugh and cook together (I get to make mayonnaise and watch olivier prepare the duck breasts for dinner!) while the kids enjoy playing outside together. Ella swings and giggles and runs with the girls, and Samuel discovers the age-old practice of tree climbing in between Nintendo sessions with the boys! The evening feels like its straight out of a movie. The children are independent and happy and there is plenty of room for them to run around and play, and the adults are free to have fun talking and relaxing. Everybody is getting along fabulously. Its great!

Soon, Laurent decides it is time to introduce me to the French custom of Pastis. A strong drink taken before dinner or lunch, ... just a bit in the glass and then half of the cup with water. Its good. Definitely something I'll enjoy back in the States.

I'm feeling a little buzz after drinking a glass of hard cider, a glass of Pomorol, and now the Pastis ... so I've lost track of time. I do know that before its dark, dinner is served for the children inside. Our hosts tell us that anytime they do a dinner party, they serve the children first so they are happy and then the adults are free to take their time. A great idea ... and it works perfectly. The kids enjoy their ham and cheese gallettes and then go right back to running around, watching TV, and playing games ... leaving us to enjoy a seven course meal!! I'll try to remember it all:
1)Herb cream in rolled ham with sausage
2)Warm mini-hotdogs
3)Tuna cake (wonderful!) with mayoinasse made by ME!
4)Fois Gras with bread
5)Breast of Duck cooked in milk with gravy with Gratin Dauphinois (potatoes and cheese dish)
6)Cheese plate with bread
7)Upside down Pear Cake

I am at a loss for words to try to describe how good the food was. Every bite of every dish was amazing. Well, ... everything except the fois gras. Janice and I both ate our fair share of the French specialty since it was purchased specially for us, ... but it's served like pate (which isn't something we like), and it has an unusual aftertaste. Not our favorite. ... To be honest, I was also nervous about tasting the tuna cake and the main course, the duck breast. I'm not a big fan of tuna and every time I've tried duck, its been very very fatty. But lo' and behold, the tuna cake AND the duck was awesome. (* My mouth is watering even now as I write this!) ...

The food is among the best we've had over this past month and a half. Very memorable. I'm going to do my best to get the recipes for all of it!

Our dinner feast is served outside and we eat for HOURS while the kids run and play and rest and then start all over again. Somewhere around 1am, Laurence asks us what our plans for tomorrow are. I tell her we are planning a drive out to Pornichet to stay with Sandrine's mother for a couple of days, and that we need to leave at 9am and that we still aren't packed for the trip. It dawns suddenly on all of us that we need to leave I we want to have any chance at sticking to our plans, so we gather our things and drive home. We are sad to go. If we hadn't already made plans with Sandrine's mother, we would have taken our hosts up on the offer to stay really late and all of us sleep at the house, we were having that much fun.

All in all ... this has to be one of the very best dinner parties that I've ever been a part of. You know how when you plan a party with friends, you always have this ideal in your mind as to how it will go? Everybody will be laid back and feel comfortable, there will be plenty of good conversation, everybody will be fully present in spirit and in a great mood, the kids will be so independent that it seems they are having a party of their own, the food will be magnificent, the wine will flow abundantly, and laughter will be shared by all. ...

That is exactly what our night looked like.

We teased one another, complimented each other, asked lots of questions, helped cook and clean together, ... it seemed as though we had been friends for years.

Valerie is the type of person who loves to have a strong and loud laugh, and so the night was full of the sound of her and Janice cackling ... and her husband Gilles did a terrific job practicing his English despite Valerie and Laurent teasing him endlessly for his mistakes. One very funny thing was how absolutely shocked Gilles was whenever our conversation uncovered some French term or actress or custom that we had never heard about. He would have this look of absolute astonishment as he would look to his friends asking in French, "They don't know about X, Y, Z?!?!?!!") ... He then told us that a common French joke about Americans is that we speak as though we have our fingers stuck up our noses. He demonstrated the technique and sure enough ... he sounded just like a Texan! Laurent added that Australians speak as though they have a finger in their mouth like a hook, and sure enough his demonstration proved it was true. ...And so I asked, "And where do French people stick their fingers when they speak?" A hearty laugh went around the table at the insinuation. : D

At one point, Laurent pulled out some French tongue twisters and we marveled at the sound of them. Gilles joined in and had some very impressive ones as well. We shared our "Sally sells seashells" and the "If Peter Piper piked a pack of pickled peppers" and they were quite impressed even though we stumbled through them.

We talked about President Bush (they don't like him, duh), Obama (they are hopeful, as are we), Nicolas Sarkozy (they don't like him b/c he acts more like a celebrity than a president ... although they are unphased by the fact that his wife, the first lady, has plans to pose nude for a magazine soon) ...

The whole table teased Janice and I for trading our home in California to come to the small villages in France ... they couldn't see the value, but for us ... it is a dream come true!

All night long we talked and ate, talked and ate, talked some more and then ate some more. And all the while drinking and laughing.

As we finally stood to leave the the table, Gilles broke out in song that was very apropot for the moment ... "We are the world" by good ol' Michael Jackson. We all joined in with smiles on our faces grinning at our own silliness... and then somebody, I don't remember who it was, mentioned the Village People and so I busted out in dance and song with "YMCA" and everybody joined in. Laughter erupts yet again as we make our exit.

A wonderful night full of memories. THANK YOU TO EVERYBODY!!!
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oliveteresa on

great times
what? no bud light served? well then, doesn't sound like the best dinner ever to me. USA USA!

nicoleisjealous on

dinner party to end all dinner parties
Asher and Janice,

You are so good at meeting people and making friends. This dinner party sounds like so much fun to me. Now I want to go to Chateau-Gontier and join Olivier and Laurence for dinner. They sound like such a great family, gracious and talented hosts.

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